You never know what you are going to find when you stalk someone online as I have been stalking Dr. William Aprill of Aprill Risk Consulting for the past few years. Aprill’s expertise is, in part, in understanding the psychology of violent criminal offenders and what law abiding citizens can do to make themselves safer in light of that understanding.
To this end, he posts about violent incidents on his Instagram account, drawing lessons from them for his nearly 3,000 followers. I was also very happy to see Dr. Aprill recently use this platform to make an important point about violence and violent victimization. On October 1st, Aprill posted a video of a young man laying dead on a street corner in Chicago.
His caption read:
From a Chicago source, the fruit of more pointless violence. Murdered at 35th and Federal, the victim was apparently a student at a nearby school. This is the cruel reality for students and families in many locales, though, as demonstrated by a study of New Orleans public school students ages 10-16: 40% have personally witnessed a shooting or stabbing; 18% have personally witnessed a murder. When life is held so cheap and so many are raised in and around the aftermath of such toxic values, what are the expected outcomes for the future? Where are the intervention points to correct the course of an entire culture? Despair and withdrawal offer no relief, as warranted as they seem, because the world is interested in us no matter our interest in it…
This is not a simple analysis, but a recognition of a complex, deeply rooted problem. And yet I knew that some of his followers would read it in simplistic racial terms. Enter @n8_saki who comments: “We all know that the problem is inner city culture – it’s simply toxic. They need a culture change, that is the problem. They idolize people and music that encourage the behavior. That’s the problem. No one wants to address it for fear of looking racist, but it’s undeniable- they have a culture problem.” Inner city culture = “black.” They = “the blacks.”
I was deeply heartened, though, by Dr. Aprill’s response to @n8_saki:
Words like “race”, already devoid of any real meaning, aren’t part of a productive discussion at this time. They’re just flashpoints. What we need to discuss are populations, and the cultures that arise out of them; defining and creating in an endless recursive loop. So let’s have the hard discussions but do our best to make it more likely for them to be productive.
Dr. Aprill is exactly right here. As I wrote in my own comment:
Thank you for using your platform to say this. A small minority of people in the most violent neighborhoods are responsible for victimizing the majority. And yet people often ascribe the problem to the entire population or culture, often in racial terms.
Indeed, our stereotypes are so profound that we have a hard time imagining those living in “inner city” neighborhoods (i.e., “the blacks”) as VICTIMS rather than perpetrators of violence. After all, “it’s just criminals killing other criminals.” Sadly, it was not until I got involved in gun culture that I heard someone say, “Just build a fence around the city and let them all kill each other.”
But we know from social scientific studies of concentrated gun violence — mocked and dismissed by some in gun culture — that the number of bad actors in any neighborhood is exceedingly small. This means the vast majority of people in those communities are innocent (often indirect, though sometimes direct) victims — the students and families Aprill mentions in his original post who have to live in this “cruel reality” of everyday violence.
Another follower of Aprill’s Instagram, @silent1sixfour, astutely observes this in his/her comment on the OP:
And when Children experience this type of Death and Destruction at the ages that you mentioned..some even younger, how could they not suffer PTSD. But many question or doubt me when I mention this subject. It is a REALITY of living in those environments that are here in the United States.
This comment, too, is supported by social scientific research on the effects of violence on communities. Sociologist Patrick Sharkey’s recently published book, Uneasy Peace, discusses the pernicious indirect effects of community violence on the daily lives of residents, and particularly the measurable negative effect on the educational achievement of schoolchildren who are neither perpetrators nor immediate victims of that violence.
Whether we address this out of self-interest (as Aprill suggests) or humanitarian concern is of less importance than that we address it.
Thank you, Dr. Aprill, for facilitating a hard but productive and non-racialized discussion of violence.